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Why Trump is lashing out at one of his own federal prosecutors

A federal prosecutor didn’t chase election crimes that existed only in Trump’s imagination, and for this transgression, he’s now facing Trump’s wrath.


Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race has generated quite a bit of interest, and for good reason. The contest, which might very well dictate which party has a Senate majority next year, is an open-seat race with competitive primaries, featuring notable characters, in both parties.

But Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, by some measures, is even more extraordinary, in part because of the radicalism of the GOP field. Amanda Carpenter explained in The Bulwark this morning:

Pennsylvania Republicans will nominate a 2020 election conspiracist for governor in the May 17 primary. How can I be sure of that? Because they’re all election conspiracists. The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go.

It might seem as if Carpenter is exaggerating. She’s not. The most competitive GOP candidates have plenty of disagreements, but they’re all election denialists who, at least publicly, have embraced the Big Lie with both arms.

And given the prevailing political winds, there’s a decent chance one of them will be elected as Pennsylvania’s chief executive in the fall.

The full piece in The Bulwark is worth your time, but the Republican candidate of particular interest today is Bill McSwain, a former U.S. Attorney in the Trump administration.

If the former prosecutor’s name sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because McSwain generated national headlines last summer by issuing a letter claiming that his office “received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities” in 2020, but those allegations weren’t pursued because of then-Attorney General Bill Barr.

“As part of my responsibilities as U.S. Attorney, I wanted to be transparent with the public and, of course, investigate fully any allegations,” McSwain wrote. “Attorney General Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities. I was also given a directive to pass along serious allegations to the State Attorney General for investigation — the same State Attorney General who had already declared that you could not win.”

Barr dismissed McSwain’s claims as absurd, and the whole thing appeared to be part of a ploy to shield himself from Trump criticisms as the Republican lawyer moved forward with his gubernatorial candidacy.

For a while, this seemed to work: The former president quoted McSwain’s dubious letter at a rally in the hopes of bolstering his lies about his 2020 defeat. Last fall, Trump and his ghostwriters wrote a lengthy letter to the editor for The Wall Street Journal pointing to McSwain’s claims as proof that Pennsylvania’s election was “rigged.” (It was not actually rigged and the former prosecutor’s letter wasn’t meaningful evidence of anything.)

It now appears, however, that Trump is no longer satisfied with the candidate who went out of his way to try to make him happy. The former president issued a written statement this morning that read in part:

“One person in Pennsylvania who I will not be endorsing is Bill McSwain for Governor. He was the U.S. Attorney who did absolutely nothing on the massive Election Fraud that took place in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth. He said Barr told him not to do anything (because Barr was afraid of being impeached by the Democrats), but he should have done his job anyway.... Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our Country down. He knew what was happening and let it go. It was there for the taking and he failed so badly.”

Trump’s statement went on to claim that Barr “probably” told other prosecutors not to take election lies seriously; conspiracy theorists have proven his lies true; and McSwain “should be ashamed of himself.”

Obviously, most of the individual claims included in the statement are absurd, including the idea that there was “massive Election Fraud” in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, this is likely to have an electoral impact: McSwain will likely struggle to get ahead in his primary now that Trump has condemned him in no uncertain terms.

But the nature of the former president’s statement is striking on its own terms: In Trump’s vision, federal prosecutors should ignore the Justice Department and pursue his conspiracy theories. What matters, in other words, is loyalty to his demands and political needs, not the rule of law. It's the latest in a series of developments that are emblematic of the former president's authoritarian instincts.

A U.S. Attorney didn’t take it upon himself to chase crimes that existed only in Trump’s imagination, and for this transgression, he’s now facing Trump’s wrath.